Football is not the only sufferer - cricket is another victim of the drawn match disease - but football seems more helpless in its grip and never more so than at a major cup tournament. The FA Cup has long been plagued, as have the various European cups, and last Sunday's World Cup final provided conclusive and damning evidence that the world's finest game so often finds it impossible clearly to identify its finest teams.
You can argue until doomsday about whether penalty shoot-outs are the fairest way of settling a cup match still tied after extra time. The answer does not lie in that direction. There is not a satisfactory way of settling a football match by attaching an unnatural appendage to the end of it, certainly not if it condemns a player of Roberto Baggio's class to trudge into history with his pony-tail between his legs.
The only solution is to eradicate the draw from the game altogether or, at least, diminish its occurrence to the point where it can do much less harm. To achieve that, we would have to change our attitude to the draw. Perhaps our affection for the result is clouded by what it could bring us, because the only good that can come from it is to find one and seven others draped in a line down a pools coupon. Apart from that, they are not worth a XXXX.
Indeed, it is from the pools that we can gauge how the draw has been extending its pernicious grip on the game during the past 25 years or more. We tend to notice only when draws interfere with the progress of knock-out tournaments but the effect on leagues is just as alarming. There was a time when eight draws of any description would net you a fortune most weekends. Then draws began to proliferate to the extent that pools companies had to downgrade the goalless draw and offer the maximum points to score-draws only. Now there are so many, only 1-1 draws count.
Awarding three points for a win and only one for a draw has offered some incentive to avoid stalemates, but there are weeks when around a third of Premiership and Endsleigh League matches can end all-square. Does this mean the teams concerned in these matches are equal in every way? I hardly think so, and yet we appear content to accept that a large proportion of our matches end with a result that leaves the better team unrewarded.
Those sports in which the task of spotting victors has been made easier by modern methods have no problem. Improved photo-finish cameras have made dead-heats a rarity in horse-racing and electronic eyes take a split-second to winkle out the winners in athletics and swimming. It is ironic that ties in all those sports that can be measured are dying out while football's dead-heats are growing to unprecedented numbers.
Games like tennis, snooker and golf have taken steps to ensure that the dreaded deadlock does not interfere with their events and do so within the framework of the game. It is in cricket and football that the draw most frequently and frustratingly occurs. The cricket draw is such an integral part of the ritual that the search for a solution does not appear to be an urgent priority. It is football that needs the urgency because the lack of clear winners causes so many problems.
Not only does the draw complicate the competitions, it has a significant effect on the attitudes of those involved. It is too much of a convenience to be of value to a game wishing to impress the world with its ability, vigour and ambition. A draw may be infinitely more welcome than defeat but it is a dangerous embrace to seek. The accepted wisdom is that a draw is honourable but this is only because those involved can go home content that they have not been beaten. There is no honour in stagnation. What a draw denotes is that victory and defeat have been successfully avoided and in no professional activity should that be so regularly acceptable.
When the draw becomes a halfway house where ambition can sneak a rest, it is time to demolish it. How? The only way is to do so within the framework of the game, to find a secondary scoring system that can be called upon if the goals are equal. Most other games have more than one way of distinguishing between the skill of the combatants.
If goals are the only arbiter of which team is superior, what is the next available indicator? Corners can be the only answer. The shots tipped over or around the posts, the crosses headed behind by a defender under pressure, the shots that ricochet off legs and bodies. These provide genuine evidence of which is the team applying pressure. If a subsidiary point was awarded for every corner and the total called upon in the event of a draw, would you not have a fairer result? Would you not be encouraging attacking play and discouraging the casual surrendering of corners, which don't usually yield much anyway?
We may get Arsenal 1.7, Manchester United 1.8 but I would accept that as a more realistic result. And that's before we even consider cup matches. Surely, using corners to help determine the more adventurous, more dominating team is more appealing than the bland acceptance that an equality of goals means an equality of ability, effort and adventure. It doesn't; not in a World Cup final or anywhere else.
THE phenomenon of parallel worlds revealed here last week - in the other one, Great Britain played Brazil in the World Cup final - brought some interesting responses. Paul Steeples, of London SW9, wrote about my reference to 'Michael Hughes, who plays in Germany for Strasbourg'.
He says: 'No doubt, he'll be telling us next week how Germany won back Alsace-Lorraine on his other earth. After a penalty shoot- out, perhaps?'
It is all very well to scoff, Mr Steeples, but we of the two worlds can easily get confused - and now I hear there's a third. I have received a letter from Peter Hardy of the Rugby League Supporters' Association, enclosing a copy of their amusing quarterly fanzine called The Greatest Game in which they, too, have stumbled on a parallel world.
In theirs, the big cosmic surge occurred in 1895 and had the effect of keeping the northern clubs in the rugby union, with the southern clubs resigning. The result has been amazing. First the Welsh, then the Scots, the bigger English clubs, New Zealand, Australia and even the United States joined the northerners in their 13-a-side game.
The middle-class south took to hockey, with 60,000 packing Twickenham for the hockey cup final. Football is very much a minor game while the big question is: 'Can the San Francisco 95ers keep their World Series title without stand-off Joe Montana, arguably the game's greatest player, after their lucky defeat of Wigan at the Toronto Skydome last year?' Somewhere, there's a better world for all of us.Reuse content